January 2012 Archives

In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright changed the world in the most American of ways, by tinkering in their bicycle shop and then testing their flying machine in the dunes of Kitty Hawk. The basic design principles they followed were the same as those being followed by optimistic airplane designers all over the world. Others used similar airframes, engines, and controls. The Wright brothers did make numerous innovations, but to an observer, there was little that differentiated their model from many others, with one exception: their airplane actually flew. Now space forward 109 years, and consider school reform. In turning ...


In the 1980s, Madeline Hunter was extremely popular for her speeches and writing focused on making basic principles of educational psychology practical for teachers. I saw her speak once in a huge auditorium packed to the rafters with enthusiastic teachers. At the end, the teachers were streaming out excitedly discussing the speech. On every side, the comment I heard was, "This confirms everything I've always believed!" Everyone likes to have their beliefs confirmed by articulate speakers, but I wondered at the time whether the teachers had wasted their time. How could confirmation of what they've always believed change their teaching ...


In recent posts I've argued that while we can and should learn a great deal from international comparisons of educational practices and outcomes, we should not simply adopt the practices of other countries, but should put them (and home-grown solutions) to the test in our country. Last week, as part of Education Week's Quality Counts, there was an article by Pasi Sahlberg, of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. Finland, of course, has become the poster child for those who point abroad for inspiration, because of its top rankings on international tests, such as PISA and TIMSS. Sahlberg explains ...


In a November 10 Sputnik I wrote some cautionary thoughts about what we can and cannot learn from international comparisons to improve educational policies. My old friend Marc Tucker, in his December 20 blog called Top Performers, took me to task, saying that by suggesting we try out ideas from abroad in our own schools before adopting them wholesale, I was "looking for my keys where the light was better" rather than where they might actually be. In my blog I was completely agreeing with Marc that we can learn a lot from other countries. I work part-time in England ...


On a family trip to Minneapolis, I happened to see an end-of-the-year article on the dramatic reduction in gunshot incidents in the Twin Cities in recent years. The article in the Star Tribune attributed the decline to better policing strategies, such as use of data to focus police on areas of particularly high crime, as well as other prevention efforts such as keeping local recreation centers open late. What the Star Tribune failed to note is that the reduction in violence and crime is not limited to the Twin Cities, but is a national phenomenon. In fact, there have been ...


There's an old story about a town that was planning to build a playground. In the town council, someone brought up the problem that the proposed site was at the edge of a cliff, so there was a danger that children might fall off. The council then got into a debate about whether to build a fence at the top of the cliff or station an ambulance at the bottom! The point of the story, of course, is that it's ridiculous to invest in remediation of problems that could have been prevented. Yet in education, that is what happens all ...


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